Barbara Hepworth was born in Wakefield. She didn’t live there that long, moving down to London to study at the Royal College of Art when she was 0nly 17, she stayed down south, living in Hampstead and then St Ives. But the local Council are proud of the local girl who became one of the 20th Century’s major British artists and this new gallery in it’s landmark building that opened in May this year is devoted to her work.
The local Council had an enlightened approach to art and the original Wakefield Art Gallery, founded in 1923, built up a significant collection of contemporary art including works by Hepworth, Henry Moore (another local lad from Castleford, which is only a few miles away) and other leading British artists working during the 20th Century. The following short film produced by the Guardian gives a good brief overview of how the collection was built up.
Click here for Guardian video
Six of the ten galleries within the building are devoted to Barbara Hepworth, her work, influences and the St Ives School of which she was a leading member. There are also a number of sculptures outside the building in the pleasantly landscaped gardens.
The exhibits are drawn from the collection owned by Wakefield Council together with loans from the Tate and other sources. Although there are a number of works by Hepworth, the majority are by other artists from her circle and others who influenced her work.
In Gallery 1 there were 5 sculptures by Hepworth which attempted to show the range of her work. There were three wooden pieces, the “Cosdon Head” from 1949 carved from blue marble. I was less keen on the geometrically perfect “Cone and Sphere” from 1973 made of white marble which I felt were were cold and somewhat sterile compared to the warmth and curvaceous forms of the wood.
She is particularly adept when working in wood where, as an advocate of being “true tot the materials” works with the natural contours. This is particularly true of the tall upright “Figure (Nanjizal)” carved from yew. I particularly liked the indentations she made in the cavities she carved in the wood using her chisel, creating a pitted surface which contrasts with the smooth, polished outer surfaces.
Gallery 2 showed works from Wakefield’s collection including early sculptures and drawings by Hepworth and Henry Moore. It was particularly interesting to see the drawings. Of the paintings displayed I particularly liked those by John Piper, Patrick Heron, Francis Butterfield and Roger Fry.
The display in Gallery 3 was titled “Hepworth in Context” and included works by a significant number of British and European artists who had influenced Hepworth’s work. It provided an interesting overview of how British Art in the 20th Century became influenced by European Modernism leading to a move away from literal representations to more abstract work.
Galleries 4 and 5 were devoted to Hepworth’s work with plaster to create her bronze sculptures, made possible by the Hepworth Family Gift, a donation of a large number of working models. Gallery 4 explained her methods by examples of her work, visuals and videos, with the majority of the models, some very large, displayed in Gallery 5.
Hepworth loved to carve and these displays showed how even the production of her bronze pieces she was able to incorporate carving by working on the plaster models used to produce the castings. In many of her bronze pieces the surface textures reflects this.
When she became an established artist Hepworth produced some very large bronze works for commissions for John Lewis, the Pepsi Corporation, the Cheltenham and Gloucester Building Society and the United Nations. The displays included information on how all of these works were created. It was particularly fascinating to see the massive full scale model of the “Winged Figure” commissioned by John Lewis for their Oxford Street Store in London. It dominated Gallery 5.
It was fascinating, and educative, to view the displays in these two galleries. I thought the Hepworth had done a good job in explaining how she worked and I certainly came away having learned about how the bronze sculptures were created.
Hepworth is particularly associated with the St Ives where she lived from 1945 until her death in 1975. She was one of the central figures in the community of artists that gathered in the small Cornish seaside town leading to an explosion of innovative abstract art. In Gallery 6 there was a large collection of works from the St Ives School. I’ve never seen so many pieces from this significant group of artists displayed together. It was worth the trip over to Wakefield for this alone.
There are three works by Hepworth displayed outdoors. Leaning over the end of the bridge leading up to the gallery from the car park you can see three figures from the “Family of man” series of bronze sculptures, from 1970. The whole group can be seen displayed very effectively at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park only a few miles outside the town.
You can also see her “Ascending Form (Gloria)” from 1958 and “Hollow form with Inner form” (1968). There’s a plaster prototype of the latter in Gallery 5 and it was interesting to compare the two. The inner form was positioned slightly differently in the final version. I think Hepworth must have changed her mind when she’d tried out her ideas in creating the plaster model and I felt that the final bronze was an improvement.
Also outside is a large wooden structure, “The Black Cloud”, created by Heather and Ivan Morrison. Its a cross between sculpture and architecture – – a type of artistic tent or gazebo, intended to be used a a “multi-functional social space ….. an outdoor shelter for people to gather, relax, entertain and enjoy the waterfront location”. It’s an interesting piece with which visitors can interact. It does seem to be in a vulnerable location and I do hope it doesn’t become vandalised.
The Hepworth also has 4 other rooms that are for temporary exhibitions. These were taken up with “Hot Touch”, an exhibition of works by by the Irish sculptor Eva Rothschlild. I found it interesting. I liked some, but not all of her pieces. But I’ve rabbited on enough in this post already. So that’s probably a topic for another post.